Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Movie with Abe: Boys State

Boys State
Directed by Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss
Released August 14, 2020 (Apple TV Plus)

There are rules set in the United States that require candidates for office to be of a certain age in order to run. In most cases, a person is allowed to vote before they can actually be elected. The presumption is that some degree of maturity is needed to effectively govern, and that even if voters are empowered to choose who can lead them, they may not be ready to be considered themselves. At a time when the two major contenders for President are over seventy years old, the voice of the youth and first-time voters becomes even more important.

Boys State is a program of the American Legion that meets each summer to give high school juniors the opportunity to participate in mock campaigns to elect state officials and a governor. Past participants have included Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, and many other notable names. Divided into two parties, Nationalist and Federalist, the attendees at the Texas Boys State in 2018 select candidates and begin campaigns, drawing on issues that they know will attract and antagonize voters to build a platform and simulate the democratic process that they will soon participate in after returning home and turning eighteen.

This documentary offers an extremely informative and enlightening look at how a simulation of politics in play can mirror the real world. All the attendees are enthusiastic enough about government and issues to choose to apply and participate in the program, and while they’re assigned parties and positions to assume, they bring with them a knowledge of how politicians actually behave and take cues from them. Candidates advocate positions like castrating rapists instead of punishing the would-be children of rape victims with abortions and say deliberately inflammatory things to provoke a response and improve their odds of election.

Where this film really succeeds is in its interviews with the participants, in which they convey plenty about their psyches and the effect being part of this political process, even a mock version, has on them. Talks of voting on secession derail the otherwise serious proceedings, and those who opt to be over-the-top analyze how that behavior is received. There’s an acknowledgment that they are all seventeen-year-olds, and therefore not all that much should be expected of them, yet there is also a gravity to personal attacks that feel more charged than any potentially harmless campaigning. This film doesn’t provide an easy, catch-all answer to how to fix a problematic political system but instead showcases a regularly-run experiment to model the way people are elected in the United States, with a good deal to teach to anyone watching and open to new perspectives.


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